Securing Computer and Office

You're on the verge of launching your business, and whether you have a home business or are leasing office space, you must take certain security measures for your computer and office facility. Two of the common mistakes made with either computer equipment or the data contained within is the failure to back up important files (when various vendors can make it easier) and the lack of technology savvy associated with putting bank account information (or Social Security numbers) in e-mail transmissions.

Such carelessness actually happens, which makes information technology yet another area that sole proprietors should not wade into alone. No matter how technically proficient they believe themselves to be, the all-important area of computer security should be treated like accounting or law. "A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to do everything themselves," noted Bryan Chan, president and founder of SupraNet, "but computers and IT and Internet security are really no different than those other professions."

 

Computer shields

Chan and colleague Dan Gavin, security and compliance manager for SupraNet, outlined some basic, common-sense security steps. Outsourcing really comes into play if you happen to run an e-commerce business, where you have a shopping cart and are taking people's credit card information. Gavin noted there are stringent regulations governing how businesses can hold that information and what they can do with it. "That is one area, for someone who runs a start up, where the cost of building the infrastructure to handle online payment processing can be just massive," Gavin stated. "So really outsourcing that is very good for someone who is just starting out."

The danger of not relying on a service like PayPal is that you might be responsible for a security breach if the information is stored on a local server. By going to one of the aforementioned third-party aggregators, the e-commerce business would mitigate its risk as a vendor. Said Gavin: "There is nothing wrong with setting up locally and having a shopping cart, but for the actual payments you can use a gateway such as PayPal, where they will actually leave your site to the PayPal site to complete that transaction, and then all that liability is placed on PayPal instead of you."

If a new business is not engaged in e-commerce, but is still in the business of collecting personal information and storing that information, the onus is on the business to make sure it's kept in a secure way, Chan stated. "Just using a laptop that might have your accounting system on it – the type of information that you are storing for your clients – you never want to store credit card numbers or Social Security numbers unless you have the ability to encrypt it or otherwise ensure the data is secure," Chan said. "Most people probably don't have that ability, so the easy way is to not be engaged in those types of practices."

To protect a computer from viruses and malware (malicious software), Chan and Gavin suggested the website avtest.org, which does independent testing on the different security suites. "I think it's important to know that botnets and botnet networks are on the rise," added Chan, referring to software agents that literally can take control of a computer. "That is definitely trending up, and it's a very big problem that all Internet providers are faced with."

Another potential issue is associated with the use of wireless routers, which serve as a local area network. "A lot of people will just say, 'Oh, an open network,' and not use a firewall," Gavin said. "By doing that, you're opening up your computer, and anyone in the area can connect to it and run security attacks against your individual computer, even though they are not connected to your network other than wirelessly. That is a risk that really isn't worth taking."

Chan said too many people don't bother to change simple things like the log-in information, relying on the default user name and password. This simple step matters, he said, because once cyber criminals get into one computer, they can get into any of the computers attached to it.

Building security

James Mankowski, president of JBM Patrol & Protection, described three levels of protection that entrepreneurs can expect from their office building landlords.

¢ Basic building security – Exterior lighting, doors that lock and close properly, and an emergency evacuation plan.

¢ Mid-level security – The basic features along with a camera system for hallways or the building exterior, and an intrusion alarm. (There is a basic system that some companies will sell for $99, and then charge a $40 monthly fee to monitor it).

¢ Advanced-level security – At this level, you'd have all of the above, plus burglar and fire protection cameras, and probably a security patrol officer who would lock the building in the evening, unlock it in the morning, and check all the exterior doors and parking lots overnight.

The camera systems are synched with the Internet to provide a high degree of sophistication. "You can type in a Web address if you're watching from home," Mankowski explained, "or your security patrol company can monitor it from their office and conduct a virtual guard tour, which means that at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. it would dial into the address on the Internet, and control the cameras and do a virtual tour. If they find a suspicious person, they would dispatch a patrol car."

The cost depends on the level of sophistication. According to Mankowski, a "really nice system that will work" can be purchased for about $2,000, but they also run upwards of $20,000. Landlords typically add the expense to the square footage cost of a lease. "Typically, people buy more than what they need, or more than they know how to use, and that's unnecessary," Mankowski said. "As far as having a security patrol service, that's about $5 per patrol."

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